This should not be too surprising to anyone who’s been following the rise of the Koch brothers since they burst on the scene in the 1970s. They were at that time, as much younger men, committed to forming a viable Libertarian Party, and created the Cato Institute as its philosophical and ideological home base. David Koch ran for vice president on the Libertarian ticket in 1980 and campaigned for full abortion rights and the decriminalization of drugs, homosexuality and prostitution, while calling Ronald Reagan nothing more than a liberal squish. But no one should be shocked to find out that these billionaires really had one big priority: themselves. Charles Koch spelled it out as early as 1974 when he was formulating the rationale for a Libertarian party:
“The development of a well-financed cadre of sound proponents of the free enterprise philosophy is the most critical need facing us today.”
They figured out right after that race that a third party was a quixotic waste of time and set out to take over the GOP. And it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why so-called isolationist social liberals would pick the party that was at that very time criminalizing every drug crime they could dream up, demonizing gays, trying to roll back abortion rights and spending hundreds of billions in the biggest military build-up in history. (After all, if they really cared about all that, they could have used those issues to take over the Democratic Party, which already had a large peace faction and was the party of civil rights an civil liberties.) So why did they choose the Republican party?
Well, while they may have felt the government shouldn’t be telling people who they are allowed to sleep with, it wasn’t that infringement of personal freedom that was keeping them awake at night — or inspiring them to organize. They were deeply, deeply concerned that government and business were too entwined and that it was going to spell the end of their inalienable right to rape the land, exploit the workers and gather every last penny on earth by any means necessary. This was the “freedom” they were protecting. And the Republican Party was much more fertile ground for those issues. Sure, some rubes might have gripes about theocrats and police agencies trampling their liberties, and that might be useful in persuading them to sign on with a billionaire agenda designed to destroy their own security and opportunity. Certainly, the gun issue has proved to be a big winner in that regard. But the Kochs were pragmatic and came to understand that in order to gain the political power they would need to enact their agenda for themselves, they needed to make a choice. And they made it. Courtesy of Lee Fang’s great book, “The Machine: A Field Guide to the Resurgent Right” we have a speech from Charles Koch to the anti-gay Council for National Policy in Naples, Florida, in January, 1999 in which he said:
“We’ve been a major supporter of George Mason University because, like the man it was named for, it’s been a premier source of ideas about liberty, ideas that can help us with critical social problems. But even great ideas are useless if they remain trapped in the ivory tower.
“Theories must be applied, of course, in order to create value. Someone has to translate these general principles into specific policy proposals. To generate interest among political movers and shakers. To rally the troops and unite social and economic conservatives to make a difference.”
[N.B. George Mason University is a Virginia public university for which the Kochs have endowed with massive funding for their pet causes.]
He said it right out. They wanted to join forces with social conservatives and so they have.
But the Kochs aren’t the only billionaires who call themselves libertarians yet have made a devil’s bargain with the right. Take Richard Stephenson, the CEO of the controversial for-profit hospital chain the Cancer Centers of America. You may recall that he was the major funder of the so-called Tea Party group Freedomworks and personally paid off one of the founders, former congressman Dick Armey, to the tune of 8 million dollars in an ugly purge a couple of years ago. (Freedomworks also sprang from the Koch brothers idea lab when their original group called Citizens for a Sound Economy split in two, with the Kochs taking with new Americans for Prosperity while Dick Armey went with the new Freedomworks.) And like the his comrades the Kochs, Stephenson is usually described as a “hard core true believer” in the libertarian cause.
But as this expose by Mother Jones illustrates, Stephenson seems to only really be concerned with one aspect of libertarianism — the aspect that applies to his personal fortune. In fact, according to the documents obtained by Mother Jones, Stephenson literally sees Freedomworks as a business investment:
In a December 2011 email titled “FreedomWorks ROI [return on investment],” Cancer treatment Center’s Stephen Bonner discussed how to “do a better job measuring the value we get from [FreedomWorks].”
Surprisingly, there don’t seem to be any documents in which Stephenson talks about ending NSA surveillance or breaking up the banks or advancing marriage equality. Indeed, if you didn’t know he was a “hardcore, true believer” libertarian you’d just think he was a regular old plutocrat trying to buy GOP influence by helping to elect people who will do his bidding.
These are the big money “libertarians” who are supposedly financing a takeover of the Republican Party that will produce a new faction of isolationist, social liberals who will fight the good fight for freedom and liberty and stand tall against the imperial ambitions of both parties. And they might even manage to elect a few. But at the moment the “libertarian” funders are far more intent upon making common cause with the far right in order to advance their plutocratic agenda. Because that’s what they are about. If a few rubes can manage to eke out some individual liberty somewhere in all that they won’t stand in their way. But this is a battle for them, not the people. No one should be confused about that.